Summary: At the date of this post, the question cannot be answered with certainty by scientists; therefore we should wait and see..
As Covid-19 has not yet reached its peak (it seems to me), people across the world are becoming more fearful and therefore, regrettably, more irrational because they start to panic. Therefore anything said about companion animals which must primarily refer to cats and dogs, must be said with extreme caution and nobody should do anything on the back of what they read on the Internet at present because the experts simply don’t know the answer to the question in the title.
I will restate that: the experts do not know for sure the answer to the question in the title at the date of this post because it is a developing situation. When you read articles on the Internet you see quite a lot of hype and misinformation. When you listen to the experts on television you will notice that they are extremely cautious about what they say because they admit that they do not have all the answers at present.
As I understand it, one dog, a Pomeranian, was tested weakly positive for Covid-19. Initially it was thought that the virus had “contaminated” the dog rather than the virus infecting the dog i.e. the virus had not gone into the dog’s body tissues. Since then they have decided that the dog was infected and they think this happened because the dog’s owner had Covid-19.
However, the situation is developing because we are also told that further swab tests are being carried out on this dog to check the status regarding the Covid-19 infection. At present scientists say there is no proof that companion animals can infect either their owner or other animals with Covid-19. That is the view of the World Organisation for Animal Health.
Conversely, a University of Queensland virologist Ian MacKay has pronounced that domestic animals are unlikely to become a significant human infection. In addition, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong says that the chance of dog-to-human transmission is very small. Both these statements imply that transmission is possible from companion animal to human.
The Hong Kong expert says that if a cat or dog is infected and if they cough the water droplets in the cough would not go too far which makes them low-level problems in terms of transmitting infection. I don’t like that statement because it’s saying something contrary to what other experts have said and it is likely to upset and frightened people. He also says that it is more likely that humans will infect companion animals and vice versa.
Finally, there is no evidence that companion animals can infect other companion animals to spread the disease. At present there is simply no justification be doing anything other than taking reasonable precautions with respect to companion animals. Nobody should under any circumstances do anything harmful to their companion cats and dogs.
It is essential, and I can’t stress strongly enough, that at this stage people don’t know all the answers therefore people should wait and behave as normally as possible until they receive concrete scientific evidence upon which they can act.
It is sad to report that the at 28 March the BBC website states that some British cat owners fear that their cat can give them Covid-19 and they are asking about rehoming. Iris’s Cats in Need in Stoke-on-Trent say they have received several calls from worried cat owners
The source of this information is todays Financial Times for the update on the dog and previous reading and research over a fortnight.
Some more on COVID-19
Cats and dogs are calmer at shelters when they are selected online because of the coronavirus pandemic